His sensitivity to the welfare for the young came through his own experience in a devout Catholic family in Waterbury, Connecticut. The eldest of 13 children, he knew the seriousness of the struggle to provide for the needs of such a large family. He was 13 years old when he began working in a local spoon factory. Several years later he began his formal studies for the priesthood, was ordained in December 1877 and assigned to St. Mary's Church in New Haven, Connecticut, where his ministry to the young and underprivileged was to be marked by such fervor and success. The young working man and his family were the object of Father McGivney's special concern and affection.
It was for the spiritual and material benefit that he gathered a group of his young friends in the basement of St. Mary's Church in the fall of 1881. At 29 years of age, Father McGivney became the founder of the Knights of Columbus, a lay organization that would provide fraternal support among Catholic men and insurance benefits for them and their families in time of death and need. he was an apostle of the Christian family. Father McGivney combined a serious and retiring disposition with an intense interest in others and their needs. He was known for his fondness for children and his keen sense of humor. He always put the obligations of his priestly vocation before any other consideration, even the organization of his beloved Knights of Columbus.
Before all else, he was a priest, and his burning desire was to bring all those he met to Christ and to his Church. He made converts among the young Protestants of New Haven and ministered lovingly to those in prison. After his time at St. Mary's, Father McGivney had only one more assignment, as pastor of St. Thomas Church in Thomaston, Connecticut. It was there, less that 10 years after the establishment of the Knights of Columbus, that the servant of God died on August 14, 1890, just two days after his 38th birthday.